An article in the Wall Street Journal entitled School Reform, Chicago Style described a school district’s policy of providing habitually tardy and absentee students with a wake-up call each morning. The system has actually led to a significant increase in on-time attendance.
While one might argue the merits of such a program, this type of unusual solution is not new in the educational community. Speak to any teacher who has been on the job for long enough and you will find similar stories of extreme teaching.
When it comes to getting kids to learn, teachers are willing to try almost anything.
One story of extreme teaching from my career:
About ten years ago, I learned that one of my struggling students had a television and three different video game systems in his bedroom. He was not completing homework, was never well rested, was struggling with obesity, and was living with a grandmother who only spoke Spanish and was working two jobs in order to make ends meet.
He basically spent his afternoons and evenings indoors, unmonitored, playing video games and ignoring his schoolwork.
I told the boy that if his effort and work did not improve immediately, I was going to take action.
A month later, after he failed to heed my warning, I did just that.
One day after school, I arrived at the boy’s apartment unannounced, carrying a desk, a chair, a pile of pencils and a stack of paper. Accompanying me was the school’s social worker and my principal.
The boy’s grandmother invited us into the home, and while the social worker remained with the grandmother in the living room, discussing the trouble that her grandson was having in school, my principal and I went to his bedroom and installed the desk and chair in one corner of the room. I explained that this is where he was to do his homework and that if he needed more supplies, he only needed to ask.
Then I removed the power cords from the three video game systems and stuffed them into my pocket. Within fifteen minutes, we had left the apartment, and the boy’s three video game system were no longer functional.
I locked the cords in a file cabinet in my classroom and informed the boy that he could get them back once his effort and work improved.
About two months later, after his consecutive homework streak had hit fifteen days, I returned one of the cords. He received the final two cords on the last day of school.
Did this make an enormous difference in this boy’s life?
Probably not. He worked harder and learned more as a result of my actions, but I can’t really say that he turned a corner.
But my actions let him know two important things:
1. Teachers care deeply about their students’ well being.
2. Teachers are capable of extreme measures when it comes to helping their students learn.
That was a start.